Flight Nursing: The History & What It Takes To Be One
During By Keri Brach RN, CFRN
World War II, the flight nurse emerged as the counterpart of the flight surgeon, assisting in mass evacuations of thousands of wounded soldiers. Credit for the original idea of the flight nurse belongs to Miss Laurette Schimmoler, who in 1932 envisioned the Aerial Nurse Corps of America. This organization, composed of physically qualified and technically trained registered nurses, would be available for duty in air ambulances, as well as other aerial assignments. It was Miss Schimmoler’s perseverance that forced the military to recognize the urgent need for specialty trained nurses, therefore developing a specialized program for graduate nurses for appointment to the Army Air Forces Evacuation Service.
On February 18, 1943, the first 30 members of this group graduated from this intense four-week program which included class work in air evac nursing, air evac tactics, survival, aeromedical physiology, mental hygiene in relation to flying, training in aircraft loading procedures, military indoctrination, and a one-day bivouac. In his address to the first class of graduating flight nurses, Brigadier General David Grant said, “Your graduation in the first class of nurses from the first organized course in air evacuation marks the beginning of a new chapter in the history of nursing”, then he unpinned his own miniature flight surgeon’s wings and pinned them on the honor graduate.
Over 85 years later, flight nursing has evolved from its roots as a flight surgeon’s assistant to a highly specialized, autonomous practice that continues to build upon the foundation of training set forth in the first training programs, while striving to exceed industry standards to provide excellent patient care. CAMTS, The Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems, is the accrediting organization dedicated to improving the quality of patient care and safety of the transport environment through the development of Accreditation Standards, which includes specific qualifications for flight nurses, and AeroCare, a CAMTS accredited provider, adheres to these standards for all AeroCare flight nurses.
Functioning with a high degree of independence under the direction of a Medical Director or by protocol, the flight nurse must have impeccable critical thinking skills and a critical care background. AeroCare requires our nurses to have a current, active State Registered Nurse license with a minimum of three years’ experience in an acute care environment. These areas include ICU, ER, Flight Nursing, Critical Care Transport, PICU, PACU, Burn ICU, or NICU. Several credentials are required and include: BLS, PALS, ACLS, TNCC/TNS/TPATC, and ITLS/PHTLS are required upon hire, and advanced certifications, CFRN, CTRN, CCRN, CEN, are required within one year of hire. Continuing education to maintain the required certifications are ongoing and offered throughout the year with our in-house education programs. In addition to licensing, advanced certifications, and continued education, the flight nurse must be in excellent physical, emotional, and mental health to combat the stressors of flight.
Flight nursing is a calling, it isn’t about the flight suit, and it is definitely not for the faint of heart. It’s you and your partner, sometimes working in extreme environments, practicing under some of the most stressful circumstances. You will see people, sometimes on the worst day of their lives, and you will be their only hope to get the care they need. Remember, your skills will keep your patients alive, your courage will show through your patient advocacy, and your dedication to safety and to your profession will keep you, your partner, your pilots, and your patient safe on every mission.